The Power of Past: Why Nostalgia-Driven Marketing Works

First, we had Throwback Thursday, then Flashback Friday joined in. The two are the exact same thing – an opportunity to post “nostalgic content” on social media, be it from memories from the past week or two decades ago. Then there is the immense popularity of “Stranger Things”, an original TV show which brilliantly pays homage to some of our favorite childhood thrillers. The summer of 2016 craze with Pokémon Go, “Only 90’s kids will understand” memes, and the list goes on.
The craving for nostalgia seems to be stronger than ever, especially among Millennials.
And brands from all industries have tapped into this phenomenon, giving rise to a powerful trend: nostalgia marketing.
But how did this come to be, and how does it work?

Why are we so susceptible to nostalgia-centric marketing?

When you think about it, it’s no surprise that nostalgia hangs in the atmosphere in this day and age.

Reliving fond memories, although bittersweet, simply feels good. Let’s not forget that we tend to idealize our recollections of the past, subconsciously shaping them to give us a feeling of comfort.

The nostalgic feeling cocoons us and gives us optimism to withstand unrelenting responsibilities, stress, and the loneliness and anxiety that’s become commonplace in our fast-paced society.

Brands have recognized this as the ultimate emotion to leverage in their marketing campaigns.

Emotional branding is a marketing strategy that’s already proven to be successful. Marketers are always looking for ways to “hook” their audiences and gain their loyalty through emotion. The ultimate aim is to have audiences associate positive references with the brand, making them more open to its message.

What better way to humanize your brand and build a connection with your audience than with a compelling stroll down memory lane?

Forging a bond with an audience of young adults

Yes, the cocoon of nostalgia makes us feel better when we’re down, but there’s more: experts suggest nostalgia helps us deal with transitions, as well as give us stronger ties to our identity. In short, young adults will find themselves “nostalgizing” more as they move away from home or start their careers.

We can see how a campaign that reminisces simpler times will evoke positive feelings in a generation who’s facing the many challenges of the modern lifestyle. After all, this is a generation that’s collectively coined the term “adulting”.

Here’s a perfect example: Microsoft’s 2013 introduction to the new Internet Explorer. The marketing video is glaringly nostalgic, serving as a humorous reminder of the cultural memories and icons of a ‘90s childhood.

The pinnacle of the nostalgia-driven campaign aimed at Millennials is their slogan: “You grew up, so did we.”

It’s simple, it’s blatant, and ‘90s kids, now almost fully transitioned into the adult life, are endeared by its imagery.

The power of vintage

Here’s yet another fascinating thing about nostalgia: we can be nostalgic for a time we didn’t even live through. It’s why vintage design is all the rage.

Moreover, the beauty and power of using retro motifs for your brand is that they can be manipulated to create something original while tapping into the nostalgia of a bygone era. But why do we feel compelled by these motifs?

Take package design, for example. Many renowned package design agencies manipulate the retro feel skilfully, using one core principle: the vintage elements of their packaging suggest a simpler time. Their design doesn’t have to be glaringly nostalgic; it’s enough to only suggest to the consumer the excitement of getting a product in an era before everything was just a click away. Some designs rely on motifs that look handcrafted or unique, altogether reminiscing of times before mass consumerism.

It’s another way of forming a bond with customers, spurring their imagination, giving another level of depth to the product they’re getting.

Coca-Cola stands as a golden example. From their yearly campaigns swelling with 1930s Christmas imagery to their limited editions of retro glass bottles, the multi-billion dollar brand has been relying on nostalgia-driven marketing for decades. Not to mention their logo, which has become a cultural image in itself.

Shareworthy campaigns

Nostalgia is not necessarily reminiscing about the “good old days” and proclaiming them to be better than the present.

A series of experiments have shown that the feeling of nostalgia “bolsters a sense of meaning in life”. Healthy nostalgia entails reflecting on valuable experiences as a part of your ongoing journey. These experiences assure you that you’re a valued person who’s had a meaningful life, further suggesting that life is worth living.

It’s a powerful psychological tool for fighting existential crises – a condition spoken about very often nowadays.  

That said, audiences are very welcoming of campaigns that rely on nostalgia – they inspire and evoke the feeling of optimism. The “optimistic high” compels customers to engage and share their positive thoughts with those who have experienced the same cultural memories. That makes nostalgia-driven marketing campaigns inherently shareable.

Just look at the Microsoft marketing video again. As they say, “Only ‘90s kids will understand”.

Now, of course, your brand may not be able to fall back on nostalgia in the same way as Microsoft or Coca-Cola. But they are just valuable indicators of how nostalgia can be used in a campaign to form a bond with your audience. This marketing strategy is not going away – it’s a powerful one, and the atmosphere is just right for it.

With such a powerful marketing tool, it’s important to maintain originality. So if you’re considering a nostalgia-centric marketing campaign for your business, think critically. Most importantly, maintain the identity of your brand. You don’t want to suggest to your audience that you’re stuck in the past and desperately trying to remain there.

Nostalgia without looking forward is, after all, nothing but wistful reminiscing.


Natasha is a web designer, lady of a keyboard and one hell of a geek. She is always happy to collaborate with awesome blogs and share her knowledge about IT, digital marketing and business trends via creating high-quality content. To see what Natasha is up to next, check out her Twitter dashboard.


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